THE MIND OF A FERAL CAT: It’s Me

The hardest thing in life is to start over. The best thing in life is, we can.

It’s been just over a year since we moved to Santa Rosa, California. We are well into feet-on-the-ground stage of our life reboot.  Except, well….things seem to be getting harder instead of easier.

Fortunately, a little stray cat provides my life lesson for today.

Near the end of summer, Jon and I were sitting on our little front porch, waiting for ‘our’ hummingbird to appear. Every night, at the same time (relative to sunset, that is), he’d appear, and zip into our little tree lawn tree to settle for the night.

Suddenly, just as the hummer appeared, a black cat also zipped across our tree lawn, ran under the fence, and into our backyard.

I thought it was our rescue cat, Noddy. “How the heck did she get out?!” I sputtered. But when we went inside, there was Noddy. (aka, ‘Naughty’ or ‘Nutty’, depending on her behavior at any given moment.)

Soon it became apparent the nightly visitor was younger, and a lot skinnier, than Noddy. I finally tracked her down to the little garage in back, which we use as storage space for my booth stuff. I began to feed her in there, and within a week, she was approachable. So, not a true feral, but a well-socialized little cat–who desperately wanted to join the fold.

After weeks of trying to locate her owner (yes, I went through all the steps, offical and social), I finally got her inside. Turns out she is a lovable, loving, very affectionate cat. Can’t get enough hugging and petting. She is now fed, safe, and happy, except for one issue:

She’s terrified of the other cats, and especially the dogs.

It’s understandable. On the street, other cats are threats. And the dogs chased her every time they saw her in the backyard. Even inside, when the cats get in a dust-up, their spats and yowling trigger a massive reaction from the dogs. (I can just read their little dog brains: “Fight! FIGHT!! Let’s go get ’em, too!!”)

How does this relate to life reboots? Plenty.

I’ve convinced myself I need to partner with a few local galleries, and small fairs, to reboot my art biz. The most powerful connections are made in my studio. But in the meantime, I’d like to get my name out there. And frankly, I’d like to make a little money, to at least carry my own weight out here.

The stress of negotiating this new (or better, revisited) territory, is fierce right now. Struggling to figure out how to simply my old booth set-up, so I can do it in an hour instead of 2 days. How to manage my inventory so I can introduce my highest art, while selling the less-heavy (figuratively) items I make (vintage button, and vintage resistor jewelry.)

ButtonJewelry02
Actually, I LOVE making these! It’s pure D love of color, shapes, and history. Come to think of it, the concept of buttons is prehistoric, too.

I bombed at my first show, and now I’m freaking out about my next one, this holiday weekend. It didn’t help when a studio neighbor mentioned that a following will grow, but it will take 4-5 years.

Four. To five. Years??!!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh……

I began to whine. But my neighbor, a cancer survivor, would have none of it.

“Life is all about starting over, Luann,” she said sternly. “And it’s always hard, and it’s never easy. And sometimes, you lose everything.  Everything...” Her voice drifted away. “But that’s what life is.” I could hear the unsaid words. Everything can disappear. Life. Love. Even second chances.

I’m used to pep talks lately. My straight-talking life buddies are three time zones away now, and I don’t get to hear their words of dead-on wisdom so much anymore. But I was embarrassed enough to realize I cannot equate fear-of-doing-it-wrong with the disruption and displacement of my fellow life travellers. And I’m sure a few billion people in the world–people who would gladly exchange their life of hazard, hardship, homelessness, nation-less-ness–would gladly trade places with me, and my meager problems, that are pitifully small, even for me.

Even worse, I cringed when I thought of all the whining I do, looking for sympathy and reassurances that I’m a good person, and a good artist. Hoping people will see how hard I’m trying, and take pity on me, and, oh gawd, like me. (OH, my skin crawls to think of it.)

That night, as I drifted off to sleep, my lizard brain kicked in again. I’m scared. I need kind words. I need promises that everything will work out. Nobody wants my work. I’m doing it wrong.

And then I thought of Bean, our newest kitty, and almost laughed out loud.

Bean’s emotional life careens between two extremes: Desperate for affection and affirmation (well, in a cat sense), and extreme fear. There’s not enough love in the world to conquer her fear. Only time, and patience, small steps to introduce her into our household, will do that.

Or her anxiety may be a permanent trait. She may never adjust to two bouncy big dogs who love to ‘play’ with cats. (God help any creature who runs from them.)

But she is still loved. She has a place in our lives. And she has a place in the world. Can’t I learn to accept that about myself, too?

So maybe my lizard brain needs a new name: Feral Kitty brain.

And maybe a bowl of kibble.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Change: The Movie (The Move continues)

Even tiny changes can reflect big ideas.

Even tiny changes can reflect big ideas.

My head’s been in a whirl the last few months. I think I’ve entered that stage in a move where it feels like my life feels like a dream. Not the great glow-y kind. The kind where I find myself picking up dog poop and I keep finding hamburger patties in the dirt and I think, “Geez, this is weird. Wait a minute…..Am I dreaming?!” (I was.)

On one hand, there’s all the wonderful, heady stuff that comes from a major life change (the good ones, that is.) We go for a drive and suddenly remember this is an incredibly beautiful area, and the ocean is half an hour away. There are the marvelous moments, like learning our resident hummingbird darts into his nighttime resting spot in our little tree in front of our front porch, at exactly the same time (relative to sunset) every night. We sit and watch for him almost every night, and get a tiny frisson of joy when we catch him in the act. (It helps that he sits in exactly the same branchlet on the tree, too.)

On the other hand, there is the sudden realization that there’s no one to call up and say, “Hey, let’s go out for a drink!” Not that I could, anyway. Since we’ve been here, I can barely stay up past 9 p.m. Sooo…no one to call up and say, “Hey, let’s go to Happy Hour for a drink!”

I miss lakes, and rivers. There are lakes and rivers here, but not so much after four years of drought. I miss thunderstorms.

(OTOOH, I don’t miss mosquitoes, black flies, humidity, nor the season of funny smells.)

A few days ago, I had the scariest change of all.

I should preface this by saying my “year” tends to begin and end at my birthday. That sounds pompous, and I don’t mean it that way, really, I don’t. It’s just that when I realized the cave of Lascaux was discovered very nearly on my birth date, and other big events that cause me to stop and gasp (my birthday is 9/11), I often have reason to stop and take my measure. This month has been the same.

I was making a ‘batch’ of horses, as I usually do. Over the years, I built up to making my animal totems in batches of up to, oh, a couple dozen or so at a shot. It made for real efficiency, shaping them all, doing all the manes at once, all the eyes at once, all the markings, etc. (Even in a good sales year, I average about $2 an hour. Maybe I should go work at McDonald’s…..) (Nah.)

Lately, the batches have gotten smaller, down to one dozen, then half a dozen.

This time, I stopped at one.  A feeling of revulsion overcame me. I was overwhelmed with this awful, awful thought:

I didn’t want to make any more batches of little horses.

That stopped me dead in my tracks. WHAT??!! What…is up with THAT??!!

But instead of panicking (what would I do without the heartstone of my work??!), I got quiet. I asked myself, where is this coming from? And what do I mean by that?

And thank the powers that be, it came to me:

I want to make one little horse at a time.

And so I did. I made two little horses that day. Each one, totally one at a time. Each got its own shaping, then its mane, then its eyes and nose, etc.

I then made other artifacts that take less ‘soul’, if you will, easier work, and popped the whole bunch in the convenction oven in my home studio.

This may not seem like a big change to you. It sure started out as a big change, but ended up being a very small change.

Or is it?

My horses have always ended up as completely individual and unique. For years, I’ve been telling folks how collectors look for ‘their horse’ when shopping.

I don’t know how to explain this, except that this, for some reason, feels even more important than ever. So important, I felt the need to slow down, to get calm, to get centered. To really see the power, and the blessing, inherent in everything I do.

There’s something growing here in California, something big. When people are attracted to my work, they fall hard. The things they tell me about it, are powerful. My internet sales are growing, from people back in New England who are either missing my work, or have recently discovered it. More and more people are telling me about how the work feels, on many levels.

It’s scary. Someone asked me why, and I couldn’t say. It’s something about, with my work having that power, comes great responsibility, something I don’t know how to handle personally. It feels like the time a bigger-than-life visitor exclaimed, “You’re a shaman! You’re a shaman!” when he first saw my work–like my work is bigger than I am. I’m not putting that right, but it was exciting, and wonderful, and scary at the same time. It was a powerful experience, and propelled me forward in ways I could not have imagined.

Something like that may be growing now. All I can do is listen. Pay attention.

The past year was all about realizing the harm brought into the world by people who don’t know what they don’t know.

I wonder what this next year holds for me.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: The Story of the Hutch

A very useful piece of furniture, this hutch has been with us for 26 years!
A very useful piece of furniture, this hutch has been with us for 26 years!

It’s been less than a week since Cap’n Ben’s words of wisdom on moving. And it’s been a busy one. There’s been a flurry of paperwork. Many listings of our belongings on Craigslist. A yard sale or two, with more in the works.

I’m a collector and a mixed media artist. That means almost every object that crosses my path has “potential”. Possibilities abound. I have drawers of decorative papers and specialty glues, paint in every form you can imagine, beads, fabric, yarn and books. Frames and canvases, paper cutters and miter saws, waxed linen and silk tape.

And I have a thousand containers for all of them. Including….

The hutch.

It’s a beautiful wood hutch, three glass doors up, two drawers in the middle and three wood doors below. Pine stained to cherry. Nicely made, not those clunky ones that always end up in the thrift shops.

We bought it the first year we moved to Keene, 26 years ago. Our daughter Robin was five weeks old when we moved in. In the middle of a heat wave, and us with one window fan. My husband went to work in an air-conditioned office every day, complaining how cold it was. I would lie on the floor in front of the fan, begging the weather gods to please, please, please remove the maddening 95 plus degree heat.

After six months of staring at my craft supplies sitting in boxes, my husband proposed we set up some sort of organizer for them. We ended up down at Winchendon Furniture, in the clearance section of the second floor. We found the hutch and fell in love with it. It adorned our dining room for twelve years, and another fourteen when we moved to Roxbury Street.

Eventually I had a room and then an entire studio for my projects. The art supplies in the hutch made way for our pretty wedding china

Nope, it's not going to California, either. Earthquakes. Remember?
Nope, it’s not going to California, either. Earthquakes. Remember?
, and eventually my McCoy pottery collection.

Now it’s 26 years later. Where did the time go?? The kids are grown and nearly on their own. The house is sold, and here we are, emptying our home of a lifetime of memories, getting on our way to California.

It was strange to see the hutch empty. And though we priced it to sell, it survived three indoor tag sales this spring, and even a yard sale. “Maybe it will go with us to California!” I said hopefully. My husband was pretty sure it wouldn’t.

He was right. Eventually someone saw it on Craigslist, and an email conversation ensued. The woman said her husband loved the hutch, and he would pick it up that day. When he arrived, though he paid us less than we expected. “But we agreed to the price!” I cried. “Let it go”, said Jon. And so I did. But I couldn’t watch it go, and hid in my studio.

Now it wasn’t just an empty hutch I had to look at today–there was a huge empty spot in our living room. And there was the funny gap in the molding surrounding the room we’d completely forgotten about.

Mind the gap!
Mind the gap!
We hope it won’t kill the sale.

Today we received one more email from the hutch’s new family. The dad was chagrined to get home and realize he’d underpaid us. The mom promised to send us a check for the difference. I told her how grateful I was for that little extra to help us on our way.

But the best part of her email was the picture she included….

Their two very young children, already exploring inside the hutch.

Our hutch with its new family.
Our hutch with its new family.

My heart leaped into my throat for a moment–how like my own young ones at that age! And I knew the hutch was truly in its rightful home.

We came to Keene with not too much, and made a life here. I became a mother here, and an artist. We made friends, we made a home, we became a family.

Now that time is finished, and something new begins. Jon will lose his job any day now. The layoffs at his company are massive, and he’s already been told it will be soon. We don’t have a home yet in California. We simply remember the quality of light when we were last there, and how light in heart we felt.

I do not know what lies ahead for us in California. Our friend Julie says when she looks at us, she sees light. I believe her. We are becoming lighter, letting go of what we don’t need to hold onto anymore. We don’t need sweaters in California, nor snow shovels and ice skates. I don’t need my beloved salt-and-pepper collection in a city of earthquakes.

I didn't have THAT many salt-and-pepper shakers....
I didn’t have THAT many salt-and-pepper shakers….

Some days it’s hard to let go of so much. And some days it’s easier.

But through it all, I know this:

The memories are in our hearts. We need very few mementos to keep them bright.

And new memories are waiting to be made, in California.

HERO’S JOURNEY

I’m struggling with a lot of issues and thoughts lately. This big move is unsettling. We know more than ever that we need to move. And we know we WANT to move. But when, and where, and what to do with a very few but oh-so-precious companions and fragile, vulnerable loved ones, confound and confuse us.

Layer that with questions about how to keep our hearts open and loving, while protecting ourselves from the people who would destroy us by gentle nibbling or explosive bites….

With the feeling that it’s truly time to dig deep into issues of compassion and forgiving, while still protecting ourselves….

Trying to let go of the people who aren’t there for us (when we were there for them) while graciously accepting help from the people who are…

Well, it’s been a bit of a jumble.

As always, listening and writing help. And actually sitting down and making things helps, too. In the midst of donating, selling, giving stuff away, it’s even more important than ever to honor my creative spirit. That’s easy to forget while working on the ever-growing to-do list.

As always, someone speaks magic words. And for a brief moment, there is clarity. Clarity that gets me through another day.

Last week, I complained to a friend that she and a very few people were helping me a lot, more than I felt comfortable with. While other people were doing very little, if anything at all. It felt out of whack, unbalanced. “But it’s your turn!” she said. I still didn’t get it, so she explained. When we reach out and help others, whether it’s helping them move, helping them with information they need, helping them by simply listening, we will “get it back”. But not necessarily from that person.

“Your good energy goes out into the universe,” she said. “And when you need that energy–when it’s your turn–it comes back. But it usually comes back through other people, not the people you feel ‘owe’ you.”

Well. That just shut me right up. I had to stop and think about it. It made so much sense. I am getting everything I need right now. And it’s coming from all over the map of my friendships, some from very old places and much from very new places.

It also gave me an insight into letting go of resentment. Friends are not a balance sheet, where I tally up what was given and what I’m owed, and vice versa. Do the truly good work you can do. Put it out there. Trust that it will come back when you really need it. In fact, as I look back, that is exactly how we’ve been helped through excruciating circumstances the last few years. (Probably forever!) Chance meetings, acquaintances, total strangers often gave us exactly what we needed, to help us take the next step. Almost every day, a miracle occurred. It still astonishes me. And now I can relax, and see them right here under my nose. (Thank you, Roma!)

Of course, being human, this heart of mine, trying to be so gentle, soon got all gritchy again. Last night, over a glass of wine, I complained to another friend that all the joy seems to have drained out of our decision to move.

When I try to remember what moved us to do this, it feels like a dream. Now, we feel dominated by the harsh realities of a job search, determining the actual destination, recognizing the costs involved, dealing with the disruption to our lives.

At the same time, I’m highly sensitive to the fact that this isn’t “awful, hard stuff”–no one is dying, no one is injured, no one is forcing us to do this. I’m embarrassed to complain so much. And our dream of California, which made so much sense a year ago, now seems a bit frivolous.

She said that when we’re in a state with so much upheaval and confusion, it can feel awful. Because it IS unsettling.

It’s not possible, nor even advisable, to think logically about the move right now. We’ll make assumptions based on information that isn’t certain–perhaps even wrong.

And it’s even more important to remember the dream.
“I think of ‘dreaming’ as light-hearted,” she said. “There’s no attachment. It’s…creative. And deeply spiritual.” She commented that all the aspects of the dream that mean so much to me–the light, the ocean, the big sky, the climate–all speak of deep connections to nature. She believes that connection is fundamental to all people, but especially creative people.

Assumptions, on the other hand, are heavy, and negative, and too attached to outcome. It is the antithesis of ‘the call’.

‘The call’?

I realize that is exactly what this desire feels like. A call, for something we couldn’t even articulate at first. As we tried to define it, we attached certain aspects to it that made sense: More sunshine and richer professional connections for Jon. I don’t know what for me. I hesitate to even name it for myself.

But we both felt that call, before we even had words for it. Despite us trying to nail it down, make it concrete, apply logic and reason to it, it remains largely indescribable. In many ways, not logical.

And we both still yearn for it deeply, in a way that’s still hard to articulate. That moment of us discovering the other felt exactly the same way still astonishes me when I think of it.

I’ve felt this call a handful of times in my life. I answered it, every time except once. Each time I responded, my heart has grown larger, my life has grown richer.

My only regret? The time I didn’t answer.

Erika explained, telling me about Joseph Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey. There is the call. There is the challenge–the obstacles that get in the way. You must conquer the challenge. Your reward? The gift you bring back to your people. (Erika’s version was simpler and eliminated the ‘woman as temptress’ thing which is unnecessarily obnoxious for me right now.)

She gave me just what I needed right now.

I’ve decided to take a mental vacation as I work on my giant to-do list. I’m indulging in a little “California Dreamin'”. Oh, I’m still here, packing up winter clothes, clearing out a box or two, running to the library to donate yet more books. Trying to clear a space in my studio to work.

But last night, as I drifted off to sleep, I would not let myself worry. Or plan. Or even think about my to-do list. I set aside my thoughts of Doug, and Robin, and Bunster.

Instead, I thought of huge rolling waves.

A beach filled with shiny pebbles.

Golden light from a big, big sky.

A sense of coming home.